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Archives for musings

Carol Vorderman’s Best Selling Compiler Textbook

September 19th, 2021

Now I’ve heard Amazon has being going downhill recently but…

I love how Carol Vorderman hasn’t aged at all since I watched her on Coutdown after school in the 90s. And how did the “Salter Air Fryer Cookbook” end up on there? The first book seems a solid recommendation though…

Transferring Money Home From China

September 5th, 2021

If you work in China sooner or later you’re going to want to transfer some of your salary back home. After a few initial failures and now three straight successes I thought I’d document the process here in the hope that it avoids frustration for others.

The main problem is China’s currency controls. You can’t just wire RMB outside the country and have it automatically converted into your home currency like can for say, USD to GBP. You first need to convert RMB to a freely convertible currency inside China, and then wire transfer that money out. That means you need a foreign currency account with your Chinese bank in addition to the normal bank account where you get paid.

Don’t think you can just walk into the bank and do this though. First you need to collect a lot of paperwork. You’ll need:

  • Your bank card.
  • Your passport, and any previous passports if another document references the old passport number.
  • Your work permit.
  • A signed copy of your employment contract.
  • The name, address, SWIFT code, and IBAN of your home bank account.
  • 完税证明, a certificate that shows tax paid (see below).
  • Physical payslips for each month shown on the tax certificate. If you only have electronic payslips you need to print them out and get your company to stamp them.

The tax certificate is most troublesome. To get it you need to visit the local tax office (税务总局) and say you want to 开完税证明 kāiwánshuìzhèngmíng. In Shanghai at least they have a special counter for foreigner tax services. You have to tell them the date range you want the certificate to cover: the certificate needs to show income after tax of at least the amount you want to transfer. It might also be possible to get this online if you have an account on the 个人所得税 app (the one you’re supposed to use for tax returns), although I’ve not done this myself.

At last you can go to the bank. Every bank I’ve been to only handles currency conversion Monday-Friday, and only before 3pm. So I suggest you go in the morning and leave a lot of time. Tell them you want to 换外币 huànwàibì or something to that effect and they’ll give you a ticket. Wait for your turn and then tell them how much you want to exchange and into what currency. Give them all the documents and get ready for a lot more waiting.

As I mentioned earlier the first step is to open a foreign currency account. You can either ask for this explicitly or just act confused and hope they do it for you (worked for me). As part of this they’ll ask you to sign some scary looking legal agreements about money laundering and so on. Whatever, just sign them. You only have to do this the first time.

Then you can actually do the currency exchange. With luck this won’t require much interaction, just wait while they check and photocopy the documentation and finally you’ll have to enter your PIN and sign something to confirm.

They’ll stamp the tax certificate with how much you transferred and the date. Make sure you keep this for your next trip or things will get confusing.

The last step is to wire transfer the money back home. The first time I did this I had to go to a different counter to input my bank’s details. It seems like it’s easy to make a mistake here but I suspect all that matters is the name, SWIFT code, and account number are correct. Subsequent times the account information was saved so I could just do the wire transfer from the bank’s app which was super convenient. The fees are a bit steep though: expect to pay 300 RMB or so plus any fee on the receiving side, so it’s best to only transfer large amounts. Every time I’ve transferred to the UK its arrived on the same day.

Get Vaccinated Win An iPhone

July 25th, 2021

Throughout June and July the Shanghai local government has been trying a new tactic to convince people to take the coronavirus vaccine: bribes. At many vaccination centres you can be entered into a draw to win a phone or receive some other free gift. It’s clearly working as apparently 70% of adults have now been vaccinated. I’ve collected a few examples below that I either saw myself or were shared around on WeChat.

I passed this one on the way to work. The text says “get the coronavirus vaccination here and receive five litres of cooking oil”.

This district is clearly lacking imagination: the sign says “take the vaccine and receive 300 RMB cash after the second injection”.

A sign at Shanghai International Tourism Resort. It says “take the vaccine inside the resort and receive a free entrance ticket”.

This one says if you take the vaccine here, you’ll be entered into a prize draw. The top prize is an iPhone 12 and the second one is a Macbook, although the seventh prize is just some eggs.

This lady won a phone at another location after getting her vaccination. There’s a maximum of one per day but if you don’t win anything you still get five litres of cooking oil.

I Made a Cup

July 17th, 2021

In the interests of team building or something I made a clay cup at some pottery workshop. The results were surprisingly good and said cup is quite usable for drinking water.

The raw materials shaped with my own hands into something resembling a cup.

The painting process. Note the expert colour mixing going on.

The finished article. Note that it has shrunk quite a lot in the baking process.

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Sandwich Recommendation

June 20th, 2021

After several years living abroad with all sorts of strange foreign food, I decided recently that I’d really rather just eat sandwiches for lunch. And finally I’ve found a bakery chain in Shanghai that sells sandwiches worthy of the name (hint: it’s not Family Mart).

The shop in question

It’s called Paris Baguette. But actually they’re not French at all but Korean. Whatever, their sandwiches are excellent, and also the egg tarts.

Exhibit A: three delicious ham rolls

Exhibit B: a delicious tuna sandwich

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The Dust Storm Cometh

March 30th, 2021

From the office it doesn’t look so bad…

Say what you like about UK weather, but I’ve never seen “sand, hazardous” before

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Final Fantasy VII

March 8th, 2021

The last few months I’ve been playing through the PC version of Final Fantasy VII. I first played this on the original PlayStation way back around year 9 in secondary school and it was the first time I’d played any kind of Japanese RPG.

Emerald Weapon


One of my friends was obsessed with the game and the lore around it. He had the golden Chocobo, all the materia and summons, and defeated both the Emerald and Ruby Weapon “superbosses”. I think I just played the main story through to the end and didn’t bother much with the optional content.

Press [OK] to slap…


I love the pre-rendered backgrounds, reminiscent of PC point-and-click adventure games of the same era. However they look a bit pixelated when scaled up on a large monitor (apparently they lost the original 3D scenes). The character models look great on a modern system though.

A regular battle


The story is great too and has tons of memorable characters (albeit mostly the antagonists). There’s a lot more depth to the story than I realised as a teenager. Perhaps my understanding at that time was hampered by the dodgy English translation, but it has a certain charm. I also much prefer the “science-plus-magic” setting to the common fantasy one, it’s almost a bit cyberpunk.

Finally got to level 99


What’s not great? Well it’s kinda easy: once you’ve figured out some tricks with the materia system the main story doesn’t have much challenge. I wish there was a configurable difficulty level (I heard the PC version has a mod to do this but haven’t tried). And the occasional mini-games, especially the snowboarding one, are annoying and haven’t aged well.

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YPbPr Mode vs RGB

February 26th, 2021

I was fiddling with my monitor settings today (Dell U2415) and noticed the “Input Color Format” was set to “YPbPr” instead of “RGB”. This is a compressed colour space where the chroma channel has half the resolution of the luminance channel. Normally this would be used for TVs or video encoding rather than a PC monitor. That said I’ve been using it this way for two years without noticing…

The problem is Dell monitors advertise this mode along with RGB in their HDMI EDID. The driver for my AMD graphics card see this and prefers it over RGB with no way to override the selection. There is one creative solution I found which involves patching a local copy of the EDID and telling the driver to load that from disk rather than reading it from the monitor. I took the simpler option of spending a few quid on a DisplayPort cable which only supports RGB.

The result? Fonts look a bit sharper… maybe… but it’s hard to tell.

Mince Pie Scalpers

December 31st, 2020

It’s no secret that I love mince pies. But due to the pandemic I’m stuck in Shanghai this Christmas and the seasonal delicacy is hard to source. Now everyone who’s lived in China knows you can buy anything on Taobao, and sure enough I found a 代购 daigou specialising in British foodstuffs.

Unfortunately the price is around 5-10x what you’d normally pay in the UK. Feeling desperate I bought one box of Waitrose pies anyway, for a total of ¥154 with shipping (about £17). It eventually arrived two days before Christmas and a joyous time was had by all.

A delicous Waitrose regular mince pie

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New Lego Pirates Ahoy

December 27th, 2020

A few years ago I thought I had finally collected all the classic Lego pirates. But no! Lego have just recently release a new set in the traditional style! Obviously I had to get it for Christmas and I wasn’t disappointed…

Thank you Santa

The set has over 2500 pieces and I spent two days building it. I’ve literally never spent that long on a Lego set.

The island form

It’s supposed to be a pirate base made out of an old pirate ship that ran aground.

Pirate captain and pirate pub

You can actually build two models and switch between them without much effort: the three boat parts clip out and can be assembled into a whole pirate ship.

The boat form, resembling the old Lego pirate ship

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